Shy and withdrawn Owen Howkins was too afraid to leave his home. The little seven-year-old suffers from a rare genetic disorder, known as Schwartz-Jampel Syndrome, which causes his muscles to permanently tense up. Because of his disability, Owen, from Basingstoke, Hampshire in England, rarely talked to people and was worried about leaving his home. "When he first started school, he became more aware of being different, and he became even more withdrawn," explains Owen's soon-to-be step mother, Colleen. Then the family adopted Haatchi.
The unlucky Anatolian Shepherd had a difficult start in life. He had been tied to a railroad track and was hit by a train when he was younger. Because of his injuries, he had to have his mangled tail and back leg amputated. Colleen saw Haatchi's story on Facebook and she and her fiancé decided to go and meet the dog. "As soon as they met, the effect Haatchi had on Owen was incredible," says Colleen. "Owen used to be scared of strangers but he now wants to talk to everyone about Haatchi and wants to go out all the time to dog shows. The difference we see in him can't be put into words."
The 15-month-old dog is in the process of completing his training as a Pet as Therapy Dogs and will soon be visiting injured and amputee soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. He will also be visiting sick and terminally-ill children in the local hospitals.
Because of his devotion to his owner, Haatchi was nominated for the Crufts Friends For Life Award for 2013 and won. Following his win last month, Owen explains: "I used to be scared of strangers, then Haatchi came along and now I'm not and that's how he changed my life. I didn't really meet many others with disabilities and felt like the odd one out, which made me really sad. But when I saw Haatchi and saw how strong he was, even though he only had three legs, I became stronger myself. I love him so much."
According to Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary, "The dogs nominated for this year's Friends for Life competition help to remind us what it is that makes the relationship between dog and man so very special. Each and every one of the finalists has helped to change and save lives, and can teach us all a lesson about loyalty, companionship and bravery."
The Anatolian Shepherd dog was up against four other dogs in the award competition and won after receiving the most votes from the public. He was awarded 1500 pounds (2,257 in dollars) to donate to his favorite charity.